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IKEA moves Sweden’s capital from Stockholm to Seattle

08.27.2009 · Posted in Branding & Identity Design

Today a new friend‘s FriendFeed post reminded me of IKEA’s dramatic brand identity change I discovered a while ago when I was digging information about the recent Turkish ad agency pitch.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, Futura based IKEA Sans and Century Schoolbook based IKEA Serif were replaced by Verdana. This was to me and to most IKEA fans, “moving Sweden’s capital from Stockholm to Seattle”. There are changes that can not be easily justified and embraced by any reason whatsoever. This, I believe this is one of them.

IKEA Futura Verdana

Picture taken from "Please Copy Me" blog

I worked with IKEA Turkey for nearly 3 years, starting with the pre-launch in late 2004, until early 2007. During this time, both as a company and as a brand, IKEA has been an amazing learning experience for me. Working for or at IKEA is really worth more than an MBA and a design master’s degree combined.

“The IKEA Way” philosophy is comprised of three core elements: “good design & function”, “wide range of products” and “low prices & costs”. Any combination of these two can be found in any retailer, so IKEA is proud to be the only global retailer that provides all three. This philosophy is primarily a reference to home furnishings, but is inherent in within the DNA of all departments and all tasks. So I object to the Verdana transition based on this very IKEA Way philosphy.

Some might argue that, Verdana is readily available in all computers for all languages and alphabets. Yes it’s  good function and it’s practical for this matter. But Verdana is designed by Mathew Carter for Microsoft Corporation with the main objective to be readable at small sizes on a computer screen. This is not a font designed for print in mind, especially for a company printing & distributing over 200 million catalogs each year. This is not a font designed for retail and outdoor interaction in mind, especially for a company with 285 giant stores and millions of square meters of retail space. So Verdana is not really a good design, not that it’s not a good font, but for this case it’s way off purpose.

Some might argue that Verdana is a license free font that has near zero design & distribution cost for IKEA. Yes it’s partly true, but normally IKEA never compromises from design costs. They are employing the world’s best industrial designers to come up with unique & proprietary creative solutions that provide both good design & function and innovative manufacturing techniques to be achieve very low target costs. The manufacturing run of any product is in millions, so the designers’ cost is and has never been issue. Assuming that the new font being used in 200 million catalogs, will reach 200 million households, maybe a billion people. The cost of a new and proprietary global font design for IKEA would be marginal.

IKEA: Before & After

Futura vs. Verdana, which one was better? (Please Copy Me)

I may agree that IKEA needed a font design solution for practical matters. But using a nearly open source, license free font, so common and ordinary that any retailer, any furniture brand, anyone in the world could easily adopt & use feels just not right at all.

This issue is globally discussed & criticised in many blogs and web sites by design, marketing & advertising people: Typophile, Please Copy Me (English translation) to name a few. And below is the Google translation of the CAP&Design interview with IKEA CIO Ivana Hrdličková, defending the transition to & selection of Verdana:

Yes, we have changed to new style, we now use Verdana. The reason was thought that Ikea would like to use the same font in all countries and then Verdana good for it is possible to use in many other modifications and alphabets, such as Asian countries. Furthermore, we do not have to have a different impression on the web versus print, and directory. We can use Verdana in all possible contexts.

Why Verdana?
Verdana is a fairly simple font that is very well suited to Ikea to all communications that Ikea do should be as clear as possible. That is the message that will be the focus.

For many other companies, such as Volvo, identity is strongly connected to a font. Are not you afraid to lose some of your identity now when you switch to as general a typeface?
No, we are not afraid. Our identities are not in the font. Verdana is as simple and neutral as we believe we will maintain our identity with other elements, what is the language we choose, our message, all the graphic profile. Each element plays a role.

Well, they should know better, who are we to object! :(

Cem Argun.-

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